The COVID-19 pandemic expedited the political battleground shift to schools, alerting parents to the presence and impact of controversial concepts like Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Social Emotional Learning (SEL), and leading to the launch of grassroots organizations to navigate the new territory: Courage Is A Habit (CIAH) is one of the latest.
CIAH publishes resources focused on defining and identifying hot-button topics prevailing in K-12 classrooms in Arizona and across the country: diversity, equity, inclusion, and their presence in a variety of controversial educational practices like CRT and SEL.
In one of their more recent initiatives, CIAH issued a guide to facilitate communication between parents and educators: “10 Questions Every Parent Should Ask.”
In May, CIAH put together an informational video explaining the ideological progress from Marxism to communism and its relation to controversial ideologies in schools like CRT.
Additionally, CIAH collects videos published by teachers discussing controversial social justice topics under a filing series labeled “Classroom Exposed.”
As AZ Free News reported previously, Collaborative Academic Social Emotional Learning (CASEL) helped bring SEL into mainstream practice.
CIAH also offered a sample parental opt-out form for educational materials from or concerning the National Sexuality Education Standards, Future of Sex Education (FSE) Initiative, Sex Etc., Advocates for Youth, Answer, Sexuality Information and Education Council U.S. (SIECUS), Planned Parenthood, the Kinsey Institute, any and all “Pride” vendors and/or third parties like Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), CASEL Competencies or any evidence-based SEL programs, Black Lives Matter (BLM), CRT, the 1619 Project, and the COVID-19 vaccine.
The opt-out form also revoked parental consent for discussions on abortion, birth control or contraceptives, sexual activity, sexual orientation, and gender ideologies or theories.
For parents and community members navigating the increasingly heated landscape of open records requests — which, as AZ Free News reported, led to Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) to publicizing the names of records requesters and redacting all staff names in records responses — CIAH compiled resources on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
FOIA is the federal law that requires governmental transparency.
Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) now posts the names of individuals online who submitted records requests, and redacts staff members’ names in response to requests. SUSD will anonymize its employees’ words and actions, but it will ensure that the public is aware of who is looking into the district and how.
SUSD board candidate Amy Carney accused SUSD of intimidating individuals seeking information from the district.
“They don’t want parents or community members asking questions and they will now out you if you do,” wrote Carney.
Beginning July 1, SUSD began publishing a list of record requests including the name of the requester, the request, and the status of the request’s fulfillment. AZ Free News obtained emails associated with this update, as well as SUSD’s separate decision to redact staff names.
One parent emailed SUSD to request that it comply fully with an open records request by not redacting staff names. SUSD general counsel Lori Bird responded that they wouldn’t. She explained that the district decided to redact all staff names due to media attention.
“The District has a strong interest in maintaining a safe and secure environment for its employees including, to the extent possible, not creating situations where staff members are harassed and threatened either through social, digital or print media,” wrote Bird. “In the last few months specific staff have experienced unfounded accusations of child sexual abuse and ‘grooming’ and have been threatened and harassed utilizing their work contact information and also on social media platforms. Concerns regarding the safety of employees are taken seriously by the District.” (emphasis added)
AZ Free News has been one of the outlets to report frequently on SUSD and the controversial fruits of its records requests. Most recently last month, SUSD unintentionally provided a parent with blank patient intake forms for a Phoenix hormone and gender transition facility. The records request concerned a high school librarian and Gender & Sexualities Alliance (GSA) Club.
Earlier last month, SUSD made headlines again for the content of its social justice programming, “Unitown.” Parents and community members were divided on the curriculum, part of which included a sexual orientation exercise that challenged minors on their heterosexuality and asked about their sexual behaviors, such as whether it was possible they’d consider a homosexual lifestyle if they experienced “a good gay/lesbian lover.”
In May, SUSD came under fire again after its superintendent, Scott Menzel, defended a staff member for discussing gender ideology with kindergarten and elementary students. Menzel accused parents of Civil Rights violations.
Menzel previously defended staff members who encouraged childhood exploration of gender and sexual identity through GSA clubs.
In April, SUSD’s social justice professionals promoted drag queen storytime.
Last December, AZ Free News reported on SUSD allowing students to replace their legal birth names with preferred names to align with their desired gender identity.
Last March, an SUSD middle school principal required teachers to attend a training supporting and affirming LGBTQ+ ideologies in children.
SUSD is currently facing a lawsuit from Attorney General Mark Brnovich over its retention of Jann-Michael Greenburg as a governing board member. Brnovich contended that Greenburg shouldn’t remain on the board due to his alleged circumvention of Arizona’s Open Meeting Law.
A separate controversy involving Greenburg accrued international headlines, after a dossier on SUSD parents and community members compiled by his father, Mark Greenburg, was discovered. The elder Greenburg sued one mother, Amanda Wray, for publicizing the dossier, under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Last month, a district court judge denied Wray’s anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss.
Last month, Liberty Unified School District (LUSD) outsourced its superintendency oversight to a staffing agency through a “retire/rehire” arrangement. In a divided 3-2 vote, the LUSD governing board allowed their superintendent, Lori Shough, to retire and then be rehired to the district through the staffing agency, Education Services Incorporated (ESI). ESI provides a workaround to state law, enabling Shough to draw from the Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS) while still working for the district full time.
The LUSD board held discussions on the ESI arrangement in an executive session last month, out of public view, for about two hours. Shough has worked in the Arizona school system for 24 years.
The arrangement is part of ESI’s “RetireRehire” program. The agency claimed that program members make more money in their profession without impacting the state’s retirement benefits. Shough won’t have to pay any fees for administering — but LUSD will.
“For many people, it’s like getting a raise,” stated ESI.
Under IRS guidelines, state law requires anyone who retires from ASRS but continues to work for their ASRS-providing employer to either limit their work to 20 hours for 20 weeks or less per year, or stay out of ASRS work for 12 consecutive months.
In an informational video about RetireRehire, ESI asserted that it began because of the ASRS rules, or separation of service requirement.
LUSD board members Michael Todd and Bryan Parks objected to the arrangement, arguing that it allowed Shough to “double dip” her retirement. In a press release, the pair argued that neither Arizona law or district policy allow school boards to outsource its authority to staffing agencies.
Parks expressed concern that Shough signed the ESI staffing agreement as both a worker and client, which he insisted removed the governing board’s control over the employment, direction, supervision, evaluation, compensation, discipline, and discharge of the superintendency.
“The whole scheme needs to be reviewed by the county attorney or the attorney general’s office,” said Parks. “Why should board members put in this effort and spend countless hours of time just to have schemes like this subject us all to personal liability? Who is going to be willing to volunteer as a board member when school districts do such things?”
As of last October, ESI reported working with over 1,500 retirees across 140 school districts, colleges, and government institutions in Arizona through its RetireRehire program.
The board, in another divided 3-2 vote, also approved confidentiality agreements for all ESI employees placed at LUSD. The board also agreed to a 75 percent performance pay compensation for Shough.
LUSD was also the first school district to have a transgender woman on its governing board. That member, a man named Paul Bixler who believes he is a transgender woman, argued against parents’ rights to their children’s information during House Education Committee discussions in the most recent legislative session.
13 private schools in Arizona are associated with a private school accreditation network that’s long advocated for transgenderism in minors: the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).
The following are the 13 NAIS-accredited schools:
Mayer: The Orme School
Paradise Valley: Phoenix Country Day School
Phoenix: All Saints’ Episcopal Day School, Gateway Academy, New Way Academy
Scottsdale: International School of Arizona, Nishmat Adin – Shalhevet Scottsdale, Pardes Jewish Day School
Sedona: Verde Valley School
Tucson: The Gregory School, Imago Dei Middle School, International School of Tucson, Tucson Hebrew Academy
One of the latest major initiatives by NAIS involves transgenderism advocacy for minors. Last month, NAIS hosted a joint conference with Gender Spectrum, a pro-transgenderism organization heavily focused on promoting child and teen gender transitions. Gender Spectrum partners with a plastic surgeon that specializes in gender transition procedures: Align Surgical Associates.
Gender Spectrum’s premiere sponsor is Pearson, one of the leading education materials providers in the world.
NAIS has an entire page dedicated to “Supporting Transgender Students in Independent Schools.” Many of their resources on the page, such as their legal advisory on handling transgender students, is hidden behind an NAIS member login.
NAIS’ reliance on Gender Spectrum and advocacy for minors transitioning genders isn’t new. They’ve been doing so for well over a decade. One of their earliest mentions of transgenderism advocacy occurs in a 2010 edition of their magazine, which was dedicated entirely to gender and sexuality ideology. In a guideline, NAIS instructed affiliate schools and educators on “Gender and Sexuality Diversity,” which they abbreviated as “GSD.”
NAIS told its schools to incorporate GSD materials in curriculum and libraries, establish GSD professional development programs for faculty and staff, and form GSD non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies. The network encouraged schools to allow students to wear gender-affirming clothes, and use the preferred bathrooms of their choice.
“If you have a gender variant child in your school, put together a team, including a professional therapist and/or consultant, to create plans and approaches on a case-by-case basis. Each child and school community has particular needs that can best be addressed with a collaborative consultation model,” read the guideline. “Remember that helping your school community examine unhealthy gender-role stereotyping is a benefit to all, not just those students who are gender variant.”
Nearly 2,000 private schools in the U.S. and abroad are affiliated with NAIS, with over 1,600 of those being independent, private K-12 schools in the U.S. That accounts for over 60,000 out of nearly 131,000 teachers in the country, nearly 46 percent, and just under 697,000 of the nearly 54 million students, a little over 1 percent.
31 percent of NAIS membership is based in the West and Southwest, followed by 29 percent in the East and Mid-Atlantic regions. 50 percent of all NAIS-affiliated U.S. schools are elementary and high schools, with 38 percent being preK-8 schools, and only 13 percent being high schools.
The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) approved an increase in school safety staff a week before experiencing an active shooter threat last Tuesday.
TUSD Governing Board member Sadie Shaw pointed to that threat as justification for supporting the increase, which some community members opposed. TUSD will hire five more school safety supervisors, two dispatchers, and one field lieutenant, adding to the 34 existing school safety department members. Only board members Leila Counts and Ravi Shah opposed the increase.
The TUSD community and South Tucson Police Department (STPD) presented different accounts of last Tuesday’s threat, the nature of the 911 calls, and the department’s response times.
In their version of the events to KGUN 9, STPD claimed that they received one call about the potential gunman at 7:05 am last Tuesday. They said that several men were reportedly arguing over a possible stolen car across from Mission View Elementary School, part of TUSD. Half an hour later, STPD claimed that a school monitor reported in a second call that one of the men may have been armed.
STPD didn’t respond until 9:05 am, a response time of about two hours in a city of just over one square mile. STPD reported that they didn’t find a gun.
However, Shaw and others offered a different account of events last Wednesday. Shaw stated that STPD didn’t respond for over three hours, that the alleged gunman was directly threatening the school, and that the school principal placed the calls to police. The board member thanked the TUSD safety team for protecting the students when police failed to arrive.
Shaw said that the experience was significant enough for her to vote to hire more school safety officers.
“I wasn’t on the governing board when they voted to arm school safety but in general I support this decision because these employees are sometimes tasked to respond to dangerous situations that happen at any TUSD site — 24/7,” wrote Shaw. “[Y]ou know what? I have a child that goes to school in this district and so do many of you. I don’t think we can afford to make idealistic decisions that ignore reality. This is America.”
In a subsequent petition to end school gun violence, which Shaw shared, the group “Protect Our South Tucson School” claimed that STPD didn’t respond for three and a half hours, and that the two calls were about, first, a “gun yielding [sic] angry gunman” standing outside the school and, second, an electronic threat sent to the school. Additionally, the group echoed Shaw’s claim that the second call came from the elementary school principal — not a school resource officer.
The entirety of the group’s account of event is reproduced below:
On Tuesday, June 21st at 7:15 am, 15 minutes before a summer school day started a gun yielding angry gunman stood outside of Mission View Elementary in South Tucson, a one square mile enclave of the much larger city of Tucson.
About an hour after the first call to 911 the school received a threat electronically.
The principal called 911 and pleaded again for law enforcement officers to come to protect the school while students participated in their summer school classes. Nobody showed up. Instead, the school district’s school safety team showed up in a heroic fashion and was able to secure the school.
It wasn’t until 3 and a half hours after the incident did South Tucson Police showed [sic] up to the mass shooting threat.
Every day in the United States a mass shooting occurs, just a few weeks ago in Uvalde Texas, a mass shooter ended the lives of many children and teachers. The lack of urgency in South Tucson PD’s response is unacceptable. We understand that South Tucson PD is understaffed, but when it comes to the potential threat of a mass shooting occurring it should be their number one priority. In the one square mile city, families and schools can only receive services first from South Tucson police. Tucson Police Department should be responding jointly to potential threats of gun violence to our schools regardless if the threat is in South Tucson.
We are calling on South Tucson, Tucson Unified School District and the City of Tucson to address this issue immediately and develop policies that improve lines of communication, and improve collaboration when it comes to protecting our students from gun violence.
AZ Free News reached out to STPD just before noon on Tuesday. We were referred to STPD Chief Danny Denogean; he didn’t respond by press time.
STPD admitted that their response time was too slow, which they asserted was around two hours. Denogean apologized on Monday in a statement to KGUN 9.
“We own this. We should have had a better response to that call. There’s no debating that. We needed to get there quicker.”
The neighboring Tucson Police Department (TPD) has also had slower response times, due to staffing shortages. Assistant Chief Kevin Hall toldKOLD in January that the issue has been plaguing them for about two years. Chief Chris Magnus reported that their fastest response time for foremost emergencies averages 4 minutes and 47 seconds, whereas lowest-level calls average about one hour and 37 minutes.
Tensions escalated during the Chandler Unified School District (CUSD) regular meeting on Wednesday over discussions of funding school resource officers (SROs).
Governing Board member Lindsay Love exhibited signs of a meltdown after fellow board member Joel Wirth expressed discomfort over her opposition to SROs. Love wanted the board to present more metrics and plans to the public for SROs before adding more of them on campuses. She cited the recent mass shootings in schools, namely Uvalde, Texas, to bolster her point for additional meetings on the subject.
“I don’t necessarily feel comfortable with cops on campus, right? I’m that person who doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable with cops around kids, right? But no matter how you feel about that, I think that there needs to be some transparency and I think that people need to know what the plan is,” said Love.
Wirth responded that he was uncomfortable with Love’s opposition to SROs. He saw the issue behind the Uvalde tragedy differently, arguing that more armed officers on campus would prevent similar tragedies from befalling CUSD. Wirth said that no SROs at all was not the right choice.
“Considering what’s going on in the world, that seems like the worst decision we can make — ” began Wirth.
At that point, Love interrupted Wirth to argue that there were CUSD members who didn’t want SROs. She claimed that SROs impacted certain categories of students to a greater negative degree than others. Love didn’t elaborate on what motives could drive that claimed impact.
“You may be comfortable with cops on campus but there are parents in this audience and students in this audience who may not, right? Because what we know is that we have cops on campus and they disproportionately impact BIPOC students and SPED students,” said Love. “I will not be silenced about this. We just had parents and students get up and address this. So you not feeling comfortable does not negate people in this audience and in our community who do not feel comfortable.”
Board President Barb Mozdzen instructed Love to give Wirth the floor to speak. Love interrupted Mozdzen instead.
“You know what Barb, I interrupted because I overheard him say over there, ‘Let somebody else speak,’ and I let everybody on this board speak,” said Love.
When Wirth tried to respond, Love shouted him down.
“No, I’m not letting you speak. I’m not letting you speak. I polled this myself, I had questions and I won’t be silenced,” said Love. “You can speak but I will not sit up here for a lecture.”
Mozdzen intervened to inform Love that she was out of order for breaking away from the agenda. Love refused to allow Mozdzen to continue speaking. Love asserted that if she was out of line, then Wirth was out of line for “lecturing” her in his response.
At that point, Mozdzen repeated to Love that Wirth was going to speak and that Love should remain silent.
Wirth concluded by reiterating his belief that SROs were necessary for school safety.
“My point is, I believe it’s important to have officers on the campus based on what’s going on in the world right now. That’s all I have to say,” said Wirth.
In a later post on Twitter, Love insisted that police intimidated minority and LGBTQ+ students.
Love, a controversial member, decided last November that she wouldn’t seek reelection.